- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday questioned the need for a special legislative session that some fellow Republican lawmakers want to convene over a directive issued by President Barack Obama’s administration about transgender bathroom policies in public schools.

The guideless issued by the U.S. Justice and Education departments say that students must be allowed to use facilities consistent with their gender identity. Several Republican state lawmakers in Tennessee have responded with a letter-writing campaign denouncing the directive and demanding that the state sue to prevent its implementation.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin has begun polling members in the lower chamber about whether they would support calling a special session to direct Tennessee Attorney Herbert Slatery to file a lawsuit.

The governor said he has no plans to call a special session, though a two-thirds majority of members in both chambers could convene one without his input.

“I would question: What’s the strategy? What’s the purpose of having a special session?” Haslam said.

Haslam has called the Obama directive “heavy-handed” and unnecessary, arguing that that it’s best for local school districts to handle any issues regarding transgender students as they come up.

“They know the environment and culture of their schools, and they quite frankly have been handling this is an admirable way,” Haslam said. “I think that’s how we should continue handling it.”

The governor made similar arguments when he opposed a Tennessee bill seeking to require students to use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to the gender listed on their birth certificates.

That legislation was withdrawn in the waning days of the legislative session last month to await the outcome of litigation over similar laws passed in other states like North Carolina.

“There was no doubt that whole issue was going to end up in the courts sooner rather than later,” Haslam said.

Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby is among Republican lawmakers who see little reason to hold a special session.

“What we need to do is let our school districts know that nothing has changed,” he said. “I don’t know that we need to call a special session to do that.”

It’s unclear whether Tennessee would have legal standing to file a lawsuit because the state hasn’t enacted a law at odds with federal guidelines. Haslam said he doesn’t see a need to launch legal proceedings in Tennessee.

“You should go to court if somebody comes in and says you can’t do what you’re doing,” Haslam said. “To this point in time, our schools are doing what they did last month and last year, and our advice to them is to continue doing what you’re doing.”


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